Dec 23, 2015

October 17, 1970: Cleveland Music Hall


Last Saturday we caught the Dead's Cleveland concert and it was something. The vibes were good, while strange clouds attacked the ceiling. This has to have been one of the most dynamic bands I've ever seen. It's easy to see why they've survived with virtually the same personnel as they hit the parks of San Francisco with some years back. They were so tight and so attuned to each other, that I'm beginning to wonder if it is the acid that's got them to a unified consciousness point.
Contrasting the calm flow between the Dead and us out front, was the frenzied electrical charge running through the air. While members of the group calmly sipped beer between songs, joints passed freely from hand to hand in the aisles. Why I was just sittin' there and lo and behold a "J" was in my hand, so rather than chance a bust, I took a hit and passed it on. "Don't Bogart that Joint?" Things were really cool, a kid was just lightin' up when a uniformed man walked up and asked him to please smoke in the lobby. Yes, things were beautiful.
From the Dead's tie-died polka-dotted electric amps flowed the sweetest country pickin', and solidest bass lines I've yet to hear. Jerry Garcia really got into things with an at-easeness that made him look like he was out in the hills, back of someone's barn; he was right at home. His vocals were smooth and flowed right-on with that pretty-smellin' smoke.
Phil Lesh had that smile, and well I just know that he was. Four Sunn bottoms put depth into the songs and you could feel it in your....well you could really feel it. His harmonies were fine as ever. Jack Cassidy and Phil Lesh are the two finest bass players ever. They both are into things other bass players won't ever get into.
Bob Weir played a rhythm guitar that wasn't all chords. His riffs intermingled with chords sounded real fine. His vocals, lead as well as harmonies, weren't as smooth as Garcia's but they weren't meant to be. Blues chording is not monotonous with Bob Weir. He's "far-out."
Two drummers not involved in a hype thing are Bill Kruetzman and Mickey Hart. The Dead are the first to use the twin drummer concept fully and well. The rapport between the two was flawless. Their togetherness left no gaps. With Phil Lesh they really make for a solid bottom. Percussion was their thing and they did it well. Some gongs were used as well as other percussion instruments throughout the night. The gong song was so strange; it sounded like Owsley was behind it all. In the, it couldn't have been.
Anyways, the only member left to rap about is Pigpen and he was, to quote Esch, "grunting, howling, and spitting out the lyrics." Pigpen's vocals were unique to say the least. He really got into "Love Lights" and an old Rascals tune. Between his vocal efforts, the tambourine and sitting at the organ sipping beer was his thing.
This was a Chicago -(censored). When the Dead jammed, it wasn't a garbled mass of nothingness. The Dead knew what they were doing. Their years of playing together, living together, and tripping together show in the music they play. "The family that trips together stays together?"
For an encore they did "Uncle John's Band".
"Goddamn well I declare have you seen the like,
Their walls are built of cannonballs:
Their motto is don't tread on me.
Come, hear Uncle John's Band playing to the tide
Come with me or go alone, he's come to take his children home."
The concert was everything anyone could have asked for. My only complaint is that they only played four hours and that we came late and missed "Casey Jones."
"Trouble ahead
Oh lady in red
Take my advice
You're better off dead."
Workingman's Dead is their most recent album. Previous releases have always been good and at times fantastic cuts have appeared (St. Stephens), but this is the first time the Dead have really got their stuff together in a studio attempt. Every cut on this album merits listening to. "Casey Jones" alone is worth the price.
The album is super tight: Guitar riffs are smooth, with Garcia and Weir engaging in instrumental intercourse. Phil Lesh's bass lines wander on and on always changing like the sand in the sea. Also as evasive, but always there: soft, but supporting the rest. More instrumental play takes place between the drummer twins, who are again flawless. Pigpen saved his beer this time and lends himself to the organ, which he plays real fine.
The good cuts on the album include: Uncle John's Band, High Time, Dire Wolf, New Speedway Boogie, Cumberland Blues, Black Peter, Easy Wind, and Casey Jones.
"Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
And you know that notion
Just crossed my mind."

(by Gary Thornbloom, from the Nittany Cub, 22 October 1970) 

Thanks to

Thornbloom also reviewed American Beauty three months later, the sixth & last review here: 


  1. The Nittany Cub was the student newspaper of Penn State Erie, the Behrend College - Thornbloom was a student and an editor of the paper.
    At first I thought it odd that a Penn State paper would write about the 10/17 show in Cleveland, rather than the 10/16 show at the U of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. But Erie is far closer to Cleveland than it is to Philadelphia, though still a couple hours' drive. The writer was late to the show - perhaps he was used to making weekend trips to Cleveland, but this still illustrates that by 1970, some students in the northeast were already willing to go out of their way to see the Dead. (The Dead definitely were aware of this, one reason they played so many colleges in 1970-71.)

    Thornbloom is familiar with the Dead's earlier albums - except, oddly enough, for Live/Dead. He doesn't recognize Dark Star, describing it only as a strange Owsley-influenced "gong song," and seems taken aback by Pigpen's "unique" vocals in Lovelight and Good Lovin'.
    He's very positive about the Dead, complimenting each member - in fact he has no complaints except that "they only played four hours!" He also obliquely criticizes other bands in comparison (especially Chicago, it seems). He describes the show nicely - how the band is calm, "so tight and so attuned," while the audience lights up in a "frenzied electrical charge."
    Even if this wasn't a student paper, it would be easy to tell the writer's age by his casual smoking, his identification with the audience, his statements that "the vibes were good...things were really cool...things were beautiful" - this is a reviewer on the "inside." Older 'straight' reviewers at the time wouldn't seriously "wonder if it is the acid that's got [the Dead] to a unified consciousness point."

    Workingman's Dead had been out a few months, and this writer shares the general opinion that it's the Dead's best album so far, every song good: "this is the first time the Dead have really got their stuff together." Casey Jones is the standout song for him - it was an immediate audience favorite.

  2. As a small aside, this writer and other students in Erie may have been used to traveling a long way to see bands. Thornbloom mentioned in the 4/17/70 issue of the Nittany Cub that he'd seen CSNY in Cleveland ("one of the tightest acts touring of the best"), so he may have made regular trips there. (Perhaps he also had family or friends there.)
    In the same 4/17/70 issue, there's an interesting little piece announcing an upcoming Jefferson Airplane concert in Erie:
    "For years Erie has been a cultural backwater as far as rock was concerned. An occasional appearance by bigger groups was all that lightened the bleak rock concert stage in Erie. For a while it seemed that Erie was to remain forever in isolation, with the nearest quality rock in Cleveland or Buffalo. All is not lost though. At last the skies have brightened and concerts are no longer unknown to the Erie area... With the arrival of the Airplane, Erie will fully emerge from the dark ages. Perhaps at last Erie will arrive as a power on the concert scene and save a lot of gasoline for people who want to hear good music."
    ("Airplane To Fly At Gannon Aud," by Chuck Varesko, 4/17/70 Nittany Cub)